An animal rights group has filed a class action lawsuit against a Petaluma egg producer claiming the company falsely markets its eggs as cage-free order to charge eco-conscious consumers more money.
The suit, filed in California Superior Court Monday by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, alleges that Judy's Family Farm and Petaluma Farms engaged in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices by creating labels that led consumers to believe they were buying cage-free eggs.
The group says the company did this by designing cartons that have an image of hens frolicking in open fields, leading shoppers to believe they were "free-range". The eggs are sold at Whole Foods, Safeway and Oliver's Market, where they cost more than $4 per dozen, significantly pricier than regular eggs.
According to the suit, the estimated 13,000 hens at Petaluma Egg Farms “spend their entire lives inside modern, barren industrial sheds with no grassy fields and no outdoor access," says the group, and are not raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play.
Nor do they have access to the outdoors and enjoy large communal areas with natural ventilation and sunlight, according to the lawsuit.
The discrepancy between the marketing and the true conditions of the farm constitutes a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the group says.
On Monday, the websites for both Judy’s Family Farm and Petaluma Egg Farm were down and a message and email sent to the company were not immediately returned.
But in a 2011 Press Democrat story, owner Steve Mahrt said that critics are ill-informed about what constitutes cage-free eggs.
“People have the expectation that all the chickens are outside,” Mahrt told the paper. “That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen anywhere.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cage-free eggs mean that hens are not kept in conventional “battery” cages, although it doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors or that the eggs have more nutrients. Nor does it mean the hens are kept in large spaces, but may be crammed into a warehouse shoulder-to-shoulder.
In its lawsuit, filed on behalf of an East Bay resident and other consumers, ALDF asks the court to barr Judy’s Eggs from using images that imply its products come from non-confined hens in an outdoor environment or use language that implies the hens were raised in open spaces.
It also seeks compensation for damages to consumers and a jury trial.
Find a copy of the complaint on the right.
“Americans spend more (money) for higher levels of animal welfare because they find the suffering of egg-laying hens objectionable,” the group wrote in its suit. "Deceptive packaging like that on Judy’s Eggs allows the company to profit from misleading well-intentioned consumers.”
What do you think? Are you concerned about mislabeling on eggs?